Disintermediation: an Amazon parable

New York TImes Technology ran a story yesterday about the publishing industry that is brimming with implications for almost everyone in the Internet economy.  It is about Amazon and what marketing people call “disintermediation”.  Not the simple kind that was the currency of the dot.com boom;  we are looking here at a much more advanced case:

SEATTLE — Amazon.com has taught readers that they do not need bookstores. Now it is encouraging writers to cast aside their publishers.

Amazon will publish 122 books this fall in an array of genres, in both physical and e-book form. It is a striking acceleration of the retailer’s fledging publishing program that will place Amazon squarely in competition with the New York houses that are also its most prominent suppliers.

It has set up a flagship line run by a publishing veteran, Laurence Kirshbaum, to bring out brand-name fiction and nonfiction…

Publishers say Amazon is aggressively wooing some of their top authors. And the company is gnawing away at the services that publishers, critics and agents used to provide…

Of course, as far as Amazon executives are concerned, there is nothing to get excited about:

“It’s always the end of the world,” said Russell Grandinetti, one of Amazon’s top executives. “You could set your watch on it arriving.”

But despite the sarcasm, shivers of disintermediation are going down the spines of many people in the publishing industry:

“Everyone’s afraid of Amazon,” said Richard Curtis, a longtime agent who is also an e-book publisher. “If you’re a bookstore, Amazon has been in competition with you for some time. If you’re a publisher, one day you wake up and Amazon is competing with you too. And if you’re an agent, Amazon may be stealing your lunch because it is offering authors the opportunity to publish directly and cut you out. ” [Read whole story here.]

If disintermediation is something you haven&#39t thought about much, you might start with a look at wikipedia:

In economics, disintermediation is the removal of intermediaries in a supply chain: “cutting out the middleman”. Instead of going through traditional distribution channels, which had some type of intermediate (such as a distributor, wholesaler, broker, or agent), companies may now deal with every customer directly, for example via the Internet. One important factor is a drop in the cost of servicing customers directly.

Note that the “removal” normally proceeds by “inserting” someone or something new into transactions.  We could call the elimination of bookstores “first degree disintermediation” – the much-seen phenomenon of replacement of the existing distribution channel.   But it seems intuitively right to call the elimination of publishers “second degree disintermediation” – replacement of the mechanisms of production, including everything from product development through physical manufacturing and marketing, by the entities now predominating in distribution.  

The parable here is one of first degree disintermediation “spontaneously” giving rise to second degree disintermediation, since publishers have progressively less opportunity to succeed in the mass market without Amazon as time goes on.  Of course nothing ensures that Amazon&#39s execution will cause it to succeed in a venture quite different from its current core competency.  But clearly the economic intrinsics stack the deck in its favor. Even without displacing its new competitors it may well skim off the most obvious and profitable projects, with the inevitable result of underfunding what remains.

I know.  You&#39re asking what all this has to do with identityblog.

In my view, one of the main problems of reusable identities is that in systems like SAML, WS-Federation and Live ID, the “identity provider” has astonishing visibility onto the user&#39s relationship with the relying parties (e.g. the services who reuse the identity information they provide).  Not only does the identity provider know what consumers are visiting what services; it knows the frequency and patterns of those visits.   If we simply ignore this issue and pretend it isn&#39t there, it will become an Achilles Heel.

Let me fabricate an example so I can be more concrete.  Suppose we arrive at a point where some retailer decides to advise consumers to use their Facebook credentials to log in to its web site.  And let&#39s suppose the retailer is super successful.  With Facebook&#39s redirection-based single sign-on system, Facebook would be able to compile a complete profile of the retailer&#39s customers and their log-on patterns.  Combine this with the intelligence from “Like” buttons or advertising beacons and Facebook (or equivalent) could actually mine the profiles of users almost as effectively as the retailer itself.  This knowledge represents significant leakage of the retailer&#39s core intellectual property – its relationships with its customers.

All of this is a recipe for disintermediation of the exact kind being practiced by Amazon, and at some point in the process, I predict it will give rise to cases of spine-tingling that extend much more broadly than to a single industry like publishing. 

By the time this becomes obvious as an issue we can also predict there will be broader understanding of “second degree disintermediation” among marketers.  This will, in my view, bring about considerable rethinking of some current paradigms about the self-evident value of unlimited integration into social networks.  Paradoxically disintermediation is actually a by-product of the privacy problems of social networks.  But here it is not simply the privacy of end users that is compromised, but that of all parties to transactions. 

This problem of disintermediation is one of the phenomena leading me to conclude that minimal disclosure technologies like U-Prove and Idemix will be absolutely essential to a durable system of reusable identities.  With these technologies, the ability of the identity provider to disintermediate is broken, since it has no visibility onto the transactions carried out by individual users and cannot insert itself into the relationship between the other parties in the system. 

Importantly, while disintermediation becomes impossible, it is still possible to meter the use of credentials by users without any infringement of privacy, and therefore to build a viable business model.

I hope to write more about this more going forward, and show concretely how this can work.

Robots reshaping social networks

In May I was fascinated by a story in the Atlantic  on The Ecology Project - a group “interested in a question of particular concern to social-media experts and marketers: Is it possible not only to infiltrate social networks, but also to influence them on a large scale?” 

The Ecology Project was turning the Turing Test on its side, and setting up experiments to see how potentially massive networks of “SocialBots” (social robots) might be able to impact human social networks by interacting with their members.  

In the first such experiment it invited teams from around the world to manufacture SocialBots  and picked 500 real Twitter users, the core of whom shared “a fondness for cats”.  At the end of their two-week experiment, network graphs showed that the teams’ bots had insinuated themselves strikingly into the center of the target network.

The Web Ecology Blog summarized the results this way:

With the stroke of midnight on Sunday, the first Socialbots competition has officially ended. It’s been a crazy last 48 hours. At the last count, the final scores (and how they broke down) were:

  • Team C: 701 Points (107 Mutuals, 198 Responses)
  • Team B: 183 Points (99 Mutuals, 28 Responses)
  • Team A: 170 Points (119 Mutuals, 17 Responses)

This leaves the winner of the first-ever Socialbots Cup as Team C. Congratulations!

You also read those stats right. In under a week, Team C’s bot was able to generate close to 200 responses from the target network, with conversations ranging from a few back and forth tweets to an actual set of lengthy interchanges between the bot and the targets. Interestingly, mutual followbacks, which played so strong as a source for points in Round One, showed less strongly in Round Two, as teams optimized to drive interactions.

In any case, much further from anything having to do with mutual follows or responses, the proof is really in the pudding. The network graph shows the enormous change in the configuration of the target network from when we first got started many moons ago. The bots have increasingly been able to carve out their own independent community — as seen in the clustering of targets away from the established tightly-knit networks and towards the bots themselves.

The Atlantic story summarized the implications this way:

Can one person controlling an identity, or a group of identities, really shape social architecture? Actually, yes. The Web Ecology Project’s analysis of 2009’s post-election protests in Iran revealed that only a handful of people accounted for most of the Twitter activity there. The attempt to steer large social groups toward a particular behavior or cause has long been the province of lobbyists, whose “astroturfing” seeks to camouflage their campaigns as genuine grassroots efforts, and company employees who pose on Internet message boards as unbiased consumers to tout their products. But social bots introduce new scale: they run off a server at practically no cost, and can reach thousands of people. The details that people reveal about their lives, in freely searchable tweets and blogs, offer bots a trove of personal information to work with. “The data coming off social networks allows for more-targeted social ‘hacks’ than ever before,” says Tim Hwang, the director emeritus of the Web Ecology Project. And these hacks use “not just your interests, but your behavior.”

A week after Hwang’s experiment ended, Anonymous, a notorious hacker group, penetrated the e-mail accounts of the cyber-security firm HBGary Federal and revealed a solicitation of bids by the United States Air Force in June 2010 for “Persona Management Software”—a program that would enable the government to create multiple fake identities that trawl social-networking sites to collect data on real people and then use that data to gain credibility and to circulate propaganda.

“We hadn’t heard of anyone else doing this, but we assumed that it’s got to be happening in a big way,” says Hwang. His group has published the code for its experimental bots online, “to allow people to be aware of the problem and design countermeasures.”

The Ecology Project source code is available here.  Fascinating.  We&#39re talking very basic stuff that none-the-less takes social engineering in an important and disturbingly different new direction. 

As is the case with the use of robots for social profiling, the use of robots to reshape social networks raises important questions about attribution and identity (the Atlantic story actually described SocialBots as “fake identities”).  

Given that SocialBots will inevitably and quickly evolve, we can see that the ability to demonstrate that you are a natural flesh-and-blood person rather than a robot will increasingly become an essential ingredient of digital reality.  It will be crucial that such a proof can be given without requiring you to identify yourself,  relinquish your anonymity, or spend your whole life completing grueling captcha challenges. 

I am again struck by our deep historical need for minimal disclosure technology like U-Prove, with its amazing ability to enable unlinkable anonymous assertions (like liveness) and yet still reveal the identities of those (like the manufacturers of armies of SocialBots) who abuse them through over-use.

 

The Clay Feet of Giants?

Over at Craig Burton, the marketing guru who put Netware on the map and later formed the Burton Group with Jamie Lewis lets loose with a passionate fury that couldn&#39t care less about who has deployed what:

It’s been a week since Microsoft announced that it was never going to release the next version of CardSpace. The laughable part of the announcement is the title “Beyond Windows CardSpace” which would leave you to believe that Microsoft has somehow come up with a better architecture.

In fact Microsoft announced its discontinued development of CardSpace with absolutely no alternative.

Just further evidence of just how irrelevant Microsoft has become.

The news that Microsoft had abandoned CardSpace development is not news to those of us who watch this space, Microsoft hasn’t done Jack with CardSpace for over two years.

It’s just that for some reason Microsoft PR decided to announce the matter. Probably so the U-Prove group could get more press.

Well, that&#39s a bit harsh. Identity selectors like CardSpace only make sense in the context of the other components of the Identity Metasystem – and Microsoft has done a lot over the last two years to deliver those components to customers who are doing successful deployments on a massive scale all over the world.  I don&#39t think that&#39s irrelevant, Craig.

Beyond that, I think Craig should look more closely at what the U-Prove agent actually does (I&#39ll help by putting up a video). As I said here, the U-Prove agent doesn&#39t do what CardSpace did. And the problems CardSpace addressed DO remain tremendously important.  But while more tightly scoped, for the crucial scenario of sensitive claims that are privacy protected the U-Prove agent does go beyond CardSpace.  Further, protecting privacy within the Identity Metasystem will turn out, historically, to be absolutely relevant.  So let&#39s not hit on U-Prove.

Instead, let&#39s tune in to Craig&#39s “Little History” of the Identity Metasystem:

In early 2006, Kim Cameron rolled out the Laws of Identity in his blog. Over next few months as he rolled out each law, the impact of this powerful vision culminating in the release of the CardSpace architecture and Microsoft’s licensing policy rocked the identity community.

Two years earlier Microsoft was handed its head when it tried to shove the Passport identity initiative down our throats.

Kim Cameron turned around and proposed and delivered an Identity Metasystem—based on CardSpace—that has no peer. Thus the Identity Metasystem is the industry initiative to create open selector-based digital identity framework. CardSpace is Microsoft’s instantiation of that Metasystem. The Pamela Project, XMLDAP, Higgins Project, the Bandit Project, and openinfocard are all instantiations in various stages of single and multiple vendor versions of the Identity Metasystem.

Let me clear. The Identity Metasystem has no peer.

Anything less than a open identity selector system for claims-based digital identity is simply a step backwards from the Identity Metasystem.

Thus SAML, OpenID, OAuth, Facebook Connect and so on are useful, but are giant steps back in time and design when compared to the Identity Metasystem.

I agree that the Identity Metasystem is as important as Craig describes it, and that to reach its potential it MUST have user agents. I further agree that the identity selector is the key component for making the system user centric. But I also think adoption is, ah, essential… We need to work out a kink or two or three. This is a hard problem and what we&#39ve done so far hasn&#39t worked.

Be this as it may, back at Craig&#39s site he marches on in rare form, dissecting Vendor Speak as he goes.  Mustering more than a few thrusts and parries (I have elided the juicier ones), he concludes:

This means there is an opening for someone or some group with a bit of vision and leadership to take up the task…

But mark my words, we WILL have a selector-based identity layer for the Internet in the future. All Internet devices will have a selector or a selector proxy for digital identity purposes.

I&#39m glad to finally see this reference to actual adoption, and now am just waiting for more discussion about how we could actually evolve our proposals to get this to happen.

 

From CardSpace to Verified Claims

Last week Microsoft announced the availability of Version 2 of the U-Prove Technology Preview.

What’s new about it?

The most important thing is that it offers a new, web-oriented user experience carefully tailored to helping people control the release of “verified claims” while protecting their privacy.  By verified claims I mean things that are said about them as flesh-and-blood people by entities that can speak, at least in certain contexts, with authority. By protecting privacy I mean keeping information released to the minimum necessary, and ensuring that the authority making the claims – for example a government – is not able to track and profile the way your information is used.

The system takes a number of the good ideas from CardSpace but is also informed by what CardSpace didn’t do well. It doesn’t require the installation of new components on your computer. It works on all the major browsers and phones. It roams between devices. Sites don&#39t have to worry about users “getting a card” before the system will work. And it allows claims providers and relying parties to shape and brand their users’ experiences while still providing a consistent interface for claims approval.

In other words, it represents a big step forward for protecting privacy using high value credentials to release claims.

A focused approach

When it comes to verified claims, the “U-Prove Agent” goes beyond CardSpace.  One way it does this is by being highly focused and integrated into a specific type of identity experience. I’ll be posting a video soon that will help you get a concrete sense of why this works.

That focus represents a change from what we tried to do with CardSpace.   One of the key goals of CardSpace was to provide a “generalized solution” – an alternative to the “patchwork quilt” of what I called “identity kludges” that characterize peoples’ experience of identity on the Internet.

In fact I still believe as much as ever that a “generalized solution” would be nice to have. I would even go so far as to say that a generalized solution is inevitable – at some point in time.

But the current chaos is so vast – and peoples’ thinking about it so fractured – that the only prudent practical approach is to carve the problem into smaller pieces. If we can make progress in some of the pieces we can tie that progress together. The U-Prove Agent for exchange of verified claims is a good example of this, making it possible to offer services that would otherwise be impossible because of privacy problems.

What about CardSpace?

Because of its focus, the U-Prove agent isn’t capable of doing everything that CardSpace attempted to do using Information Cards.

It doesn’t address the problem of helping users manage ALL their identities while keeping them separate. It doesn’t address the user problems of password fatigue, phishing and pervasive “secret questions” when logging into consumer web sites.  It doesn’t solve the famous “home realm discovery problem” when using federation. And perhaps most frustrating when it comes to using devices like phones, it doesn’t give the user a simple way to pick their identities from a set of visual representations (icons or cards).

These issues are all more pressing today than they were in 2006 when CardSpace was first proposed. Yet one thing is clear: in five years of intensive work and great cross-industry collaboration with other innovators working on Apple and Linux computers and phones, we weren’t able to get Information Cards onto the radar of the big web properties users depend on.

Those properties had other priorities. My friend Mike Jones put it well at Self-Issued:

“In my extensive experience talking with potential adopters, while many/most thought that CardSpace was a good idea, because they didn’t see it solving a top-5 pain point that they were facing at that moment or providing immediate compelling value, they never actually allocated resources to do the adoption at their site.”

Regardless of why this was the case, it explains why last week Microsoft also announced that it will not be shipping CardSpace 2.0.

In my personal view, we all certainly need to keep working on the problems Information Cards address, and many of the concepts and technologies used in Information Cards should be retained and evolved. I think the U-Prove team has done a good job at that, and provides an example of how we can move forward to solve specific problems. Now the question is how to do so with the other aspects of user-centric identity.

Over the next while I’m going to do a series of posts that explore some of these issues further – drawing some lessons from what we’ve learned over the last few years.  Most of all, it is important to remember what great progress we’ve made as an industry around the Identity Metasystem, federation technology, and claims-based computing. The CardSpace identity selector dealt with the hardest and most forward-looking problems of the Metasystem:  the privacy, security and usability problems that will emerge as federated identity becomes a key component of the Internet.  It also challenged industry with an approach that was truly user centric.

It&#39s no surprise that it is hardest to get consensus on forward-looking technologies!  But meanwhile,  the very success of the Identity Metasystem as a whole will cause all the issues we’ve been working on with Information Cards to return larger than life.

 

U-Prove honored by International Association of Privacy Professionals

There was great news this week about the growing support for U-Prove Minimal Disclosure technology:  it received the top award in the technology innovation category from the International Association of Privacy Professionals - the world&#39s largest association of privacy professionals.

BALTIMORE — September 30, 2010 — Winners of the eighth annual HP-International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) Privacy Innovation Awards were recognized today at the IAPP Privacy Dinner, held in conjunction with the IAPP Privacy Academy 2010.  The honorees include Symcor, Inc., Minnesota Privacy Consultants, and Microsoft Corporation.

The annual awards recognize exceptional integration of privacy and are judged from a broad field of entries. This year’s winners were selected by a panel of private and public sector privacy experts including Allen Brandt, CIPP, Corporate Counsel, Chief Privacy Official, Graduate Management Admission Council; Joanne McNabb, CIPP, CIPP/G, Chief, California Office of Privacy Protection; Susan Smith, CIPP, Americas Privacy Officer, Hewlett-Packard Company; and Florian Thoma, Chief Data Protection Officer, Siemens AG.

“On behalf of more than 7,000 privacy professionals across 50 countries, we applaud this year’s HP-IAPP Privacy Innovation Award winners,” said IAPP Executive Director Trevor Hughes.  “At a time when privacy is driving significant conversation and headlines, this year’s results show how protecting privacy and assuring organizational success go hand-in-hand.”

“HP is pleased to sponsor an award that advances privacy worldwide,” said Hewlett Packard Company Americas Privacy Officer Susan Smith.

In the Large Organization category (more than 5,000 employees), Symcor, Inc. won for its “A-integrity Process,” which is designed to manage and protect sensitive financial information that is ultimately presented to customers in the form of client statements. As the largest transactional printer in Canada, Symcor provides statement-to-payment services for some of Canada’s major financial, telecommunications, insurance, utility and payroll institutions. A-integrity established a new standard in data protection with an industry-leading error rate of less than one per million statements produced. Symcor has been improving on this rate each year.  A robust privacy incident management process was also developed to standardize error identification and resolution. Symcor’s dedicated Privacy Office provides overall governance to the process and has instilled a deep culture of privacy awareness throughout the organization.

The winner in the Small Organization category (fewer than 5,000 employees), is Minnesota Privacy Consultants (MPC). MPC helps multinational corporations and government agencies operationalize their governance of personal data. The organization won for its Privacy Maturity Model (PMM), a benchmarking tool that evaluates privacy program maturity and effectiveness. Using the Generally Accepted Privacy Principles (GAPP) framework as the basis but recognizing that the GAPP does not provide for degrees of compliance and maturity of a privacy program, MPC cross-referenced the 73 subcomponents of the GAPP framework against the six “maturity levels” of the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) developed by Carnegie Mellon University. From this, the Privacy Maturity Model (PMM) was developed to define specific criteria and weighting to various control areas based on prevailing statistics in the areas of data breaches and security enforcement actions worldwide. The Innovation Award judges recognized MPC for its successful and sophisticated approach to a very difficult problem.

Microsoft Corporation received the honor in the Technology category for “U-Prove”, a privacy-enhancing identity management technology that helps enable people to protect their identity-related information. The technology is based on advanced cryptographic protocols designed for electronic transactions and communications. It was acquired by Microsoft in 2008 and released into Proof of Concept as well as donated to the Open Source community in 2010. U-Prove technology has similar characteristics of conventionally used technologies, such as PKI certificates and SAML tokens, with additional privacy and security benefits. Through a technique of minimal disclosure, U-Prove tokens enable individuals to disclose just the information needed by applications and services, but nothing more, during online transactions. Online service providers, such as businesses and governments that are involved in transactions with individuals cannot link or collect a profile of activities. U-Prove effectively meets the security and privacy requirements of many identity systems—most notably national e-ID schemes now being contemplated by world governments. U-Prove has already won the Kuppinger Cole prize for best innovation in European identity projects and is now this year’s recipient of the HP-IAPP Privacy Innovation Award in technology.

About the IAPP
The International Association of Privacy Professionals is the world&#39s largest association of privacy professionals with more than 7,400 members across 50 countries. The IAPP helps to define, support and improve the privacy profession globally through networking, education and certification.  More information about the IAPP is available at www.privacyassociation.org.

Vittorio Bertocci brings it all together for us

My good friend Vittorio is one of the most gifted technology presenters – an artist!  But he&#39s also a talented engineer and architect – the rat!  Vittorio has been a great supporter of minimal disclosure.  I want to point you to his nice little guide to the minimal disclosure videos…  None of Vittorio&#39s real-time cartoons this time, but I hope they&#39re coming…

“As is customary by now, the IdElement is providing extensive coverage of the U-Prove CTP:

Announcing Microsoft’s U-Prove Community Technical PreviewStefan describes U-Prove, some typical scenarios where traditional technologies fall short while U-Prove provides a solution, and a summary of what we are releasing.  image
image U-Prove CTP: a Developers’ PerspectiveChristian and Greg explore the CTP, clarifying U-Prove’s role in the Identity Metasystem and describing how ADFSv2, WIF and CardSpace have been extended in the CTP for accommodating U-Prove’s functionality.
Deep Dive into U-Prove Cryptographic protocolsA feast for cryptographers and mathematicians! in this video Stefan describes in details the cryptography behind U-Prove’s algorithm. Not for the faint of heart!    image

“I know that my good friend Felix felt strongly about U-Prove: I am so glad that we can finally share this! Congratulations to Stefan, Christian, Greg and everybody in the IDA division that made this happen :-)

Downloads

- U-Prove CTP

- U-Prove SDK C# edition or Java edition

U-Prove Minimal Disclosure availability

This blog is about technology issues, problems, plans for the future, speculative possibilities, long term ideas – all things that should make any self-respecting product marketer with concrete goals and metrics run for the hills!  But today, just for once, I&#39m going to pick up an actual Microsoft press release and lay it on you.  The reason?  Microsoft has just done something very special, and the fact that the announcement was a key part of the RSA Conference Keynote is itself important:

SAN FRANCISCO — March 2, 2010 — Today at RSA Conference 2010, Microsoft Corp. outlined how the company continues to make progress toward its End to End Trust vision. In his keynote address, Scott Charney, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing Group, explained how the company’s vision for End to End Trust applies to cloud computing, detailed progress toward a claims-based identity metasystem, and called for public and private organizations alike to prevent and disrupt cybercrime.

“End to End Trust is our vision for realizing a safer, more trusted Internet,” said Charney. “To enable trust inside, and outside, of cloud computing environments will require security and privacy fundamentals, technology innovations, and social, economic, political and IT alignment.”

Further, Charney explained that identity solutions that provide more secure and private access to both on-site and cloud applications are key to enabling a safer, more trusted enterprise and Internet. As part of that effort, Microsoft today released a community technology preview of the U-Prove technology, which enables online providers to better protect privacy and enhance security through the minimal disclosure of information in online transactions. To encourage broad community evaluation and input, Microsoft announced it is providing core portions of the U-Prove intellectual property under the Open Specification Promise, as well as releasing open source software development kits in C# and Java editions. Charney encouraged the industry, developers and IT professionals to develop identity solutions that help protect individual privacy.

The company also shared details about a new partnership with the Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communication Systems in Berlin on an interoperability prototype project integrating U-Prove and the Microsoft identity platform with the German government’s future use of electronic identity cards.

As further evidence of how the company is enabling a safer, more trusted enterprise, Microsoft also today released Forefront Identity Manager 2010, a part of its Business Ready Security strategy. Forefront Identity Manager enables policy-based identity management across diverse environments, empowers business customers with self-service capabilities, and provides IT professionals with rich administrative tools.

In addition, Charney reviewed company efforts to creatively disrupt and prevent cybercrime. Citing Microsoft’s recently announced Operation b49, a Microsoft-led initiative to neutralize the well-known Waledac botnet, Charney stated that while focusing on security and privacy fundamentals and threat mitigation remains necessary, the industry needs to be more aggressive in blunting the impact of cybercriminals. Operation b49 is an example of how the private sector can get more creative in its collective approach to fighting criminals online.

“We are committed to collaborating with industry and governments worldwide to realize a safer, more trusted Internet through the creative disruption and prevention of cybercrime,” Charney said.

Readers may remember the promise I made when Microsoft&#39s purchase of U-Prove and Credentica was announced in March 2008 and some worried Microsoft might turn minimal disclosure into something proprietary:

[It isn&#39t…] trivial to figure out the best legal mecahnisms for making the intellectual property and even the code available to the ecosystem.  Lawyers are needed, and it takes a while.  But I can guarantee everyone that I have zero intention of hoarding Minimal Disclosure Tokens or turning U-Prove into a proprietary Microsoft technology silo.

So here are the specifics of today&#39s annoucement:

  • Microsoft is opening up the entire foundation of the U-Prove intellectual property by way of a cryptographic specification published under the Microsoft Open Specification Promise (OSP).  
  • Microsoft is donating two reference SDKs in source code (a C# and a Java version) under a liberal free software license (BSD); the objective here is to enable the broadest audience of commercial and open source software developers to implement the technology in any way they see fit.
  • Microsoft is releasing a public Community Technology Preview (CTP) of the integration of the U-Prove technology (as per the crypto spec) with Microsoft’s identity platform technologies (Active Directory Federation Services 2.0, Windows Identity Foundation, and Windows CardSpace v2).
  • As part of the CTP, Microsoft is releasing a second specification (also under the OSP) that specifies the integration of the U-Prove technology into so-called “identity selectors” using WS-Trust and information cards.

I really want to thank Stefan Brands, Christian Paquin, and Greg Thompson for what they&#39ve done for the Internet in bringing this work to its present state.  Open source availability is tremendously important.  So is the achievement of integrating U-Prove with Microsoft&#39s metasystem components so as to show that this is real, usable technology – not some far-off dream.

At RSA, Scott Charney showed a 4-minute video made with the Fraunhofer FOKUS Institute in Germany that demonstrates interoperability with the German eID card system (scheduled to begin rolling out in November 2010). The video demonstrates how the integration of the U-Prove technology can offer citizens (students, in this case) the ability to minimally disclose authoritative personal information.

There is also a 20-minute video that explains the benefits of integrating the U-Prove technology into online identity management frameworks.

The U-Prove code, whitepaper and specifications, along with the modules that extend ADFS V2, WIF and CardSpace to support the technology, are available here.

Microsoft: minimum disclosure about minimum disclosure?

Back from vacation and catching up on some blogs I found this piece by Felix Gaehtgens at Kuppinger Cole in Germany:  

A good year ago, Microsoft acquired an innovative company called U-Prove. That company, founded by visionary Stephan Brandt, had come up with a privacy-enabling technology that effectively allows users to safely transmit the minimum required information about themselves when required to – and for those receiving the information, a proof that the information is valid. For example: if a country issued a digital identification card, and a service provider would need to check whether the holder over 18 years of age, the technology would allow to do just that – instead of having to transmit a full data set, including the age of birth. The technology works through a complex set of encryption and signing rules and is a win-win for both users who need to provide information as well as those taking it (also called “relying parties in geek speak”). With the acquisition of U-Prove, Microsoft now owns all of the rights to the technology – and more importantly, the associated patents with it. Stephan Brandt is now part of Microsoft’s identity team, filled with top-notch brilliant minds such as Dick Hardt, Ariel Gordon, Mark Wahl, Kim Cameron and numerous others.

Privacy advocates should (and are) happy about this technology because it effectively allows consumers to protect their information, instead of forcing them to give up unnecessary information to transact business. How many times have we needed to give up personal information for some type of service without any real need for this information? For example, if you’re not shipping anything to me… what’s the point of providing my home or address? If you are legally required to verify that I’m over 18 (or 21), why would you really need to know my credit card details and my home address? If you need to know that I am a customer of one of your partner banks, why would you also need to know my bank account number? Minimum disclosure makes transactions possible with exactly the right fit of personal details being exchanged. For those enterprises taking the data, this is also a very positive thing. Instead of having to “coax” unnecessary information out of potential customers, they can instead make a clear case of what information they do require for fulfilling the transaction, and will ultimately find consumers more willing to do business with them.

So all of this is really great. And what’s even better, Microsoft’s chief identity architect, Kim Cameron has promised not to “hoard” this technology for Microsoft’s own products, but to actually contribute it to society in order to make the Internet a better place. But more than one year down the line, Microsoft has not made a single statement about what will happen to U-Prove: minimum disclosure about its minimum disclose technology (pun intended!). In a post that I made a year ago, I tried making the point that this technology is so incredibly important for the future of the Internet, that Microsoft should announce its plans what do with the technology (and the patents associated for it).

Kim’s response was that Microsoft had no intentions of “hoarding” the technology for its own purposes. He highlighted however that it would take time to do this – time for Microsoft’s lawyers, executives and technologists to irk out the details of doing this.

Well – it’s been a year, and the only “minimum disclosure” that we can see is Microsoft’s unwillingness to talk about it. The debate is heating up around the world about different governments’ proposals for electronic passports and ID cards. Combined with the growing dangers of identity theft and continued news about spectacular leaks and thefts of personal information, this would really make our days. Unless you’re a spammer or identity thief of course.

So it’s about time Microsoft started making some statements to reassure all of us what is going to happen with the U-Prove technology, and – more importantly – with the patents. Microsoft has been reinventing itself and making a continuous effort to turn from the “bad guys of identity” a decade (in the old Hailstorm days with Microsoft Passport) into the “good guys” of identity with its open approach to identity and privacy protection and standardisation. At Kuppinger Cole we have loudly applauded the Identity Metasystem and Infocards as a ground-breaking innovation that we believe will transform the way we use the Internet in the years to come. Now is the time to really start off the transformative wave of innovation that comes when we finally address the dire need for privacy protection. Microsoft has the key in its hands, or rather, locked in a drawer. C’mon guys, when will that drawer finally be opened?

Kuppinger Cole has been an important force in creating awareness about the role of an Identity Metasystem. It has also led in stressing the importance of minimal disclosure technology. I take Felix&#39s concerns very seriously. He&#39s right – I owe people a progress report.

This said, there is no locked drawer. Instead, Felix gets closer to the real explanation in his first paragraph: “the technology works through a complex set of encryption and signing rules.”

The complexity must be tamed for the technology to succeed. There is more to this than brilliant formulas or crypto routines. We need to understand not only how minimal disclosure technology can be used – but how it can be made usable.

There are different kinds of research. Theoretical research is hugely important. But applied research is just as key. Over the last year we&#39ve moved from an essentially theoretical grasp of the possibilities to prototypes that demonstrate the feasibility of deploying real, large-scale distributed systems based on minimal disclosure.

I don&#39t have much time for standards and protocols that are NOT built on top of experience with implementation. And if you don&#39t know what your standards and implementations might look like, you can&#39t define the intellectual property requirements.

So we&#39ve been working hard on figuring this stuff out. In fact, a lot of progress has been made, and I&#39ll write about that in my next few posts. I&#39ll also reach out to anyone who wants to become more closely involved.